En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
4 ratings

Monday - March 21, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Live Oak Suckers
Answered by: Brigid & Larry Larson

QUESTION:

Hello, my neighbor cleared away their St. Augustine grass for mulch and plantings. Under a huge, beautiful Live Oak tree they placed a wide bed of medium gravel, almost out to the drip line. It looked wonderful for a few weeks, until the little oak suckers started reaching for the sky. They are now almost as dense as a lawn, and my neighbors don't know quite what to do about it. Do you have any suggestions?

ANSWER:

Aha! Your neighbor has just created the perfect environment for those little oak suckers to emerge.  This is a favorite question asked by Central Texas homeowners.  I like the answer that the A&M Horticulture website had about this. 

  I quote in part:  “LEARN TO LOVE THEM because the more you cut the more they multiply. Some homeowners keep them trimmed at a certain height and interplant ground cover -- the ground cover conceals the oak sprout since the foliage is similar. We DO NOT recommend a herbicide application to sprouts since the sprouts are connected directly to the Mother tree and could cause damage. Roundup herbicide will do little more than defoliate the sprouts and could damage the tree to which they are attached. Learn to co-exist; they can become one of the most drought-tolerant ground covers available.”

Multiple previous answers by Mr Smarty Plants tend to pretty much agree with this; I will reference those answers in the summary that follows. 

 They lean towards cutting the suckers regularly, and even recommend sharpshooters and garden loppers as the tools of choice.   Be careful though, as this exposes the tree to Oak Wilt, so trimming these between February and June is highly discouraged.

  From my own experience, I can echo the advice given above and add to it a little bit.  We have two lovely Live Oaks in our front yard.  We opened the area under them when we converted the yard to a native garden.  Those suckers immediately started coming up and we had a large area where they were pretty thick.   I would mow and weed-whack them for normal control, then once or twice a year I’d dig as much as possible and cut some of the larger roots with loppers or shears.   Later I graduated to using a hedge trimmer under the soil [REPEAT:  Do not cut the Oak from February to June]

  Lately, we have converted from this to a covered situation similar to that recommended in this comment.  We laid down multiple layers of newspaper, covered by heavy cardboard, covered by 4-6” of mulch.  Using cardboard and paper allows some water to seep through, unlike the pond cover suggestion.  You should cover everything up to maybe 6” from the tree trunk.  We are now about 6 months into this and none have made it up yet.  I’m very hopeful, keep your fingers crossed for us.  Still, as they said in Jurassic Park:  “Life will find a way”.

 

More Trees Questions

Yellowing leaves on non-native weeping birch in Brick NJ
August 16, 2009 - I have a young weeping birch-planted in spring-we water regularly, it gets good sun-and rain has been perfect--the leaves get yellow--and now they are a lot! Whats the matter? I love my little tree.I ...
view the full question and answer

How close to plant Prunus carolinia for a privacy buffer in Montgomery, TX.
December 16, 2010 - I recently purchased some Prunus caroliniana trees for a privacy buffer between my neighbor and me. I have not yet planted them. They are in 25 gallon buckets and are about 10 feet tall now. How mu...
view the full question and answer

Removing suckers from Escarpment oak in Austin
October 11, 2010 - I have a small but mature grove of Escarpment Live Oak in my back yard. Five years ago we removed the St. Augustine grass that grew under these oaks and since then root suckers have begun to grow aro...
view the full question and answer

Blocking dust from a road in Sturgis MS
September 20, 2012 - Please let me know what Trees/shrubs will help block dust from dirt road.
view the full question and answer

Small tree for Huntingdon Beach, CA
November 09, 2008 - I have the exact same question as a previous tree question from Huntington Beach California. When I click on the answer it brings up another question. I would like to know the answer given for the 10 ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center